Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Big Ditch in December

As told by Anna Herring.

The Corvallis crew took advantage of student schedules and an easy lottery to land a December 9, 2012 Grand Canyon permit. Nate has a write-up on his August-Sept 2010 trip here, and there is plenty of information around the web on the Grand Canyon in general, but there are a few things that make a winter trip in the desert unique. So, here are a few tips for cold weather boaters:
  • Several of us applied for a cancellation lottery in October, and we actually pulled three different launch dates. We picked our favorite day and it was on! Only having a month and a half to plan the trip was stressful, but perhaps less daunting than planning for a year and a half in advance. We were able to borrow enough gear for three fully loaded rafts, and only had to rent groovers, a sat phone, and a few other odds and ends from Moenkopi. Also, big thanks to Rob Herring and Riley Weathers for shuttle help!!
    Alan the TL looking suave and festive on xmas day
  • Daylight hits at about 7:30 am and is gone by 5:30 pm. It was hard for us to get out of camp by 10:00 am. That said, we easily made an average of 16 miles/day with 5 layover days scattered throughout our 21 day trip, and we were still able to do most of the hikes and site-seeing we wanted to check out along the way.

  • Sunny camps are not always possible, but a camp on the north end of a North-South oriented straightaway is a good bet. Examples of good sun spots: President Harding, Unkar Delta, Racetrack. Hikes in Hermit and Tuckup canyons had awesome sun, even though the campsites themselves didn’t. 

A sunny group picture at Unkar Camp. The next day was the coldest, rainiest, windiest day of the trip. (photo: Nick Chambers)

  •  The rapids themselves are pretty straight forward, but as with any cold weather trip, the consequences of a flip or an extended swim are much higher (this is compounded on a 21 day trip). Fortunately, the tide effect due to variation in dam releases allows a range of water levels -on our trip, flows varied from 8,000 to 16,000 cfs. With this in mind, we scheduled our days to hit Hance at high water (Hance canyon has recently flooded and flushed some new sharp boulders into the left sneak line, so we aimed for the duck pond line), and also Horn rapid at high water (go between the horns!). We also hit Granite at peak flows, resulting in my most chaotic and exciting raft line of the trip. We had a zero raft carnage trip! In terms of kayaking carnage… well, you know how kayakers are.

Meghan and her scrubbies

Our three boat captains: Lucas Reitman, Meghan Johnston, and myself (photos: Alan Bergman)

  • As with any rafting trip, bringing enough beer is important- but for this trip, whiskey, hot chocolate/apple cider, and a thermos were far more crucial. Pack the same amount of beer you would expect, double the whiskey.
  • Avocados do not ripen in cold dryboxes. We had rock hard avocados at the take-out.
  • The night float is not just a summer activity- It's an awesome way to do the last, flat 40 miles of the river, and it definitely wasn’t too cold.

    And with that, here’s some very artistic and scenic photography by Nick Chambers (unless otherwise noted):
    Camp at Shinumo Wash our first night in the canyon
    Aili showing off her mad Frisbee skills in Redwall Cavern
    Geology is fun!

    Lead climber June Marion showing the boys the line up to Thunder River cave. Climbing into the mouth of the Thunder River cave was a highlight of the trip.

    Thunder River
    Snow on the rim provided some epically scenic views
    I'm not sure if elves wear drysuits, but we sure did

    Stormy evening in camp (Photo: Lucas Reitman)
     Lucas also put together some footage of a few of the big rapids from a rafter’s perspective here: 

    Grand Canyon from Lucas Rietmann on Vimeo.

    In short- the Grand Canyon is a fantastic Christmas break trip, and permits for this time of year are far easier to land than other times of the year. Bring extra socks, extra whiskey, and remember to zip up the relief zipper on your drysuit!

    Here’s the link to apply for Grand permits. You can also sign up for email notifications and they will let you know when cancellations are available!



Andy said...

Great tips, photos and links. Thanks for posting, got me thinking about a winter trip!

Melt Alaska said...

Nice brief, Its gtta be warmer than Fairbanks!